California, the most populous U.S. state, will vote this year on recalling its governor. The effort to remove Democrat Gavin Newsom from office began before the pandemic but was fueled by his actions during it. The state’s only other gubernatorial recall election was in 2003, when another Democrat, Gray Davis, was ousted and replaced with former bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzennegger, a Republican. That history gives outnumbered California Republicans some hopes of riding the latest recall effort back into power.

1. Why do some Californians want to recall Newsom?

The bid to remove him started in February 2020, just before the coronavirus began its assault on American lives and on the U.S. economy. The petitions calling for his removal cite a litany of complaints, including high taxes and elevated homelessness rates; water rationing; an accommodative approach to undocumented aliens; and opposition to capital punishment. It’s one of six efforts to recall Newsom since he took office in 2019.

2. How did Newsom handle the pandemic?

He was the first governor to order a statewide shutdown and was initially lauded for keeping infections relatively low. But a series of on-again, off-again stay-at-home orders has tried the patience of California residents and business owners. Reports last November of Newsom attending a lobbyist’s birthday dinner at a luxury restaurant with about 12 other people, maskless, didn’t help his public image. (He called attending that dinner “a mistake.”) His approval rating dropped to 46% in January from 64% in September, according to the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A more recent poll by the institute, conducted in late April and early May, found 36% of registered voters supporting a recall of Newsom, with 49% opposed.

3. When would the recall vote be held?

Most likely in the closing months of 2021. Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis will set the date now that the secretary of state’s office has confirmed that the recall petition drive collected the required 1.49 million valid signatures.

4. How would a recall election work?

Voters would see two questions on the ballot. First, they would answer whether Newsom should be removed from office. Those who choose “yes” could then check the name of one of the candidates seeking to replace him.

5. What does Newsom say?

In a statement of opposition included by law on the recall petition, Newsom warned that “this unwarranted recall effort” is “being pushed by political extremists supporting President Trump’s hateful attacks on California.” His new anti-recall campaign website calls his opponents “anti-vaxxers, QAnon conspiracy theorists, anti-immigrant activists and Trump supporters.”

6. Who is behind the recall campaign?

Orrin Heatlie, who retired after serving 25 years as a sergeant with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, leads Recall Gavin 2020, one of two committees that drove the petition effort. The other, Rescue California, is managed by veteran Republican fundraiser Anne Dunsmore. Recall supporters had raised more than $4.6 million as of June 10, while Newsom supporters had raised more than $14 million.

7. Who wants to replace Newsom?

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was the first to throw his hat in the ring. Newsom’s 2018 Republican opponent, businessman John Cox; reality television celebrity Caitlyn Jenner; and a former congressman, Doug Ose, also said they are candidates. All are Republicans. Whether any big-name Democrat enters the race -- to offer a Plan B in case Newsom is recalled -- is a touchy issue. Newsom’s team is warning other Democrats that they will weaken the anti-recall movement by joining the ballot. More than 100 candidates including Schwarzenegger, actor Gary Coleman and adult film actress Mary Carey (who is running again this time) crowded onto the ballot in the 2003 recall election.

8. How common are gubernatorial recall efforts?

Eighteen states allow for the removal of a governor by referendum, and the District of Columbia allows recall of its top official, the mayor. Since the start of the pandemic, 14 governors have been the targets of recall efforts, said Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College, who runs a blog on recall elections. Most such efforts fail when organizers are unable to collect the required number of signatures by a certain deadline, a difficult and costly endeavor in normal times, made more challenging with the pandemic. California’s 2003 recall of Davis, a Democrat, was the first successful recall of a governor since North Dakota carried out the feat in 1921. In 2012, Wisconsin voters decided against removing their Republican governor, Scott Walker.

9. Can a Republican win in California?

It would be a feat. The last time Republicans won a statewide office in California was in 2006, when Schwarzenegger was re-elected governor and Steve Poizner was elected insurance commissioner. Today, both the state Senate and Assembly have Democratic supermajorities, only 11 of California’s 53 congressional districts are held by Republicans, and there are almost twice as many registered Democrats than registered Republicans.

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